A Christmas Essay

I have more friends and associates than I can enumerate, and that’s a good thing. It would have been nice to win the Powerball Lottery (no, I don’t play), but I count my wealth in friends rather than gold.

Naturally, these friends are all over the ideological spectrum: some are devout Christian evangelicals, some are devotees of other faiths, others equally dedicated humanists, deists, atheists, anti-theists, and everything in between – and I do my best to respect them all.

And now it’s the Christmas season.

My son’s fiancée posted this on Facebook yesterday…

And my son followed it up with this video as a comment:

I watch with interest as the Christmas season draws nearer, and the blogosphere and social media sites fill up with comments about what the holiday means, who should be celebrating it, and why, and when, and begin to cast aspersions on the common sense, parentage, IQ and chromosomal structure of those who think differently.

It’s sad, really – because it’s an unwinnable argument; everyone gets to choose what the holiday means to them, and act accordingly.

Take the video above: The points it makes are matters of historical record, and I found very little in the essay to argue with. But the creator’s conclusion – that because of the things mentioned in the video, he chooses not to celebrate Christmas – seems to have shot wide of the mark.

C.S. Lewis posited that the historical Jesus was either God or fraud, with no room for the “great human teacher” argument. [1]  Personally I’m OK with that assessment, but I know that there are just about as many opinions about Yeshua of Nazareth as there are people. Whatever one may believe about the historical figure, a few things are consistent across most accounts.

  • He was supremely kind to those who were different, in trouble, or down and out.
  • He had no patience with hypocrisy and oppression in the name of self-righteousness
  • He helped others wherever he could, fed the hungry, administered to the ill, comforted the sad, and encouraged the weak.
  • Everything he did in the way of lifting the human condition, he encouraged others to do likewise.

The estimable Mr. Lewis notwithstanding, that would be a life worth celebrating.

It is true that over the last two millennia, more evil has been perpetrated in the name of faith; but in contrast, an equal if not greater amount of good has been done as well. The first gets the headlines and is widely pointed to by opponents of religion; the second is done quietly, in bedrooms, back streets, alleys, and out-of-the-way places, and rarely attracts the attention of a media dedicated to selling advertising.

Over the last two millennia, the public celebration of Christmas has morphed from a religious feast day into an orgiastic frenzy of obscene consumption. Society at large has indeed succeeded in taking Christ out of Christmas, leaving nothing but a mass: a mass of confusion, a mass of greed, a mass of debt, and a mass of emptiness; but in countless homes around the world, there are those who celebrate the season by striving to live lives worthy of that original One; lifting the hands that hang down, and strengthening the feeble knees of others in need. Each of us gets to choose, and each of us gets to be right about our choice. We are free to look at the Christmas holiday as a reminder of all the hypocrisy and evil perpetrated in the name of faith by those who have lost sight of what the original Jesus was about; or, as the words of a lovely song state so well, we can choose to see the holiday as something else:

Christmas is a feeling filling the air,
It’s love and joy and laughter of people everywhere.
Christmas is a feeling bringing good cheer;
It reaches out to touch you when the holidays draw near.

Along with Saroyan’s The Human Comedy, “A Christmas Carol” by Dickens ranks very high on my list of important and human writings. The transformation of Scrooge from all that our society today embodies – cold, commercial, heartless, penurious, usurious, and cruel – into someone who captured that feeling of joy and a desire to reach out and do good to all who crossed his path, underscores once again that we are at choice about how we view this holiday season. Each year the words bring me back, and I yearn to read the story again, each time with fresh eyes:


“[Scrooge] became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world … and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!” – Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

We live in a peculiar, complex, and often bizarre and frightening world – but like Scrooge, despite the challenges, I would “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year,” pushing back against the tide and celebrating goodness, and giving, and helping everyone to win. That’s how I want to keep Christ in Christmas. Others may disagree, but that’s their privilege.

The Old Wolf has chosen.

[1] “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity

The Kadupul Flower

Don’t try to give a bouquet of these to your girlfriend.


The Kadupul flower, or Epiphyllum oxypetalum, blooms rarely, only at night, and its blossoms wilt before dawn. Even if you live in it’s native habitat of Sri Lanka, you’re unlikely to see its delicate beauty. And, it doesn’t smell very nice, either.

The world is so full of a number of things…

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Hawking snake oil to the elderly

I still get mail addressed to my mother on occasion; she left this world last year at the age of 94. But she was getting ads like this regularly for about 15 years before she finally caught the bus, and as time went on (before we took over her financial affairs) she ordered lots of products, either on her own or at the insistence of skilled but sleazy telephone salesmen. As a result, she ended up on every sucker list out there.

If you have older loved ones, please make sure they throw solicitations like this into the trash, even if they come from places as respectable as the Mayo Clinic – they’re not above drumming up business in the elder sector, and there are thousands of others who are looking for a chance to separate mentally-diminished but resource-wealthy seniors from their incomes, savings, and pensions.

The letter above is pure crap. The company makes a glaring mention of the FDA and implies that said agency has endorsed their product. This is a load of hqiz: the actual FDA letter is here, and if you read it you’ll see that the agency is clearly saying that evidence for effectiveness of phosphatidylserene as a memory-enhancer is feeble at best, although the product is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) based on the information provided to the FDA by the company involved, with the additional disclaimer that the FDA has not done its own research. They went on to say, “FDA continues to believe that the science provides very limited and preliminary evidence sufficient for qualified health claims about phosphatidylserine and reduced risk of these conditions.FDA continues to believe that the science provides very limited and preliminary evidence sufficient for qualified health claims about phosphatidylserine and reduced risk of these conditions“.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m a long-time proponent of optimal nutrition and there is a lot of science out there about vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other co-factors that do benefit health. What I object to is outlandish claims and weasel words from companies looking to make a quick buck from the unsuspecting and uneducated, and there are far too many of those out there.

If you’re looking for things to help your loved ones, be sure to do your due diligence. Research as much as you can on the product involved, and make sure you’re not buying smoke and mirrors, which is what 90% of the stuff being marketed out there really is.

The Old Wolf has Spoken.

Beware of Phishing – it’s still rampant

Be very careful about clicking links in emails, even if they seem to come from a legitimate source.

Notice the email below, which I received this morning – red flags are marked in color, with explanatory notes:

From: “Customer Central” <ycghjpn@comcast.com> [1]

Subject: Services Cancellation Notice ID:NNQMEYR on November 29, 2012

Dear Comcast Member,

The credit card we have on file for your Comcast Internet service was declined when we attempted to bill you on 11/29/2012 for your most recent service fees. For this reason, your service could be suspended.
Please visit our Account Information page:

bork://account.comcast.net.1r9.is-into-cars.com/bin/index.php?forceAuthn=1&continue=%2fSecure%2fHome.aspx&s=ccentral-cima&r=comcast.net [2]

Update your credit card information as soon as possible. Once your credit card information is updated, you will be charged immediately, as soon as payment is received. [3]


E-mail ID: 87326473233
Online Session PID: 8374334



Comcast Customer Care

This email arrived the day before my actual credit card was set to expire. While the message looks convincing to the untrained eye, it’s phonier than a 7-dollar bill.

Things you can do to protect yourself:

  1. If you get an email like this, either call your supplier’s customer service number or go directly to their website.
  2. Never click embedded links in an email, it’s just not “safe computing.”
  3. Never open attachments in an email unless you know exactly what they are, even if they appear to come from your dearest friend.

There are countless scumbags out there, and they want your money and your information. Be safe, be careful, and watch out for your loved ones.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] Email from a legitimate source will never have alphabet soup as part of the email address.
[2] Look at that URL up there: account.comcast.net.1r9.is-into-cars.com. A web address for a legitimate concern will not have jumbles of letters or numbers, or extraneous words in it. This website had been taken down by the evening, but I’m guessing the douchebags got a few uneducated people to enter their information with the millions of emails they sent out. The URL led to a very realistic-looking website with a login request. As is my wont, I went there and entered scathing obscenities for my username and password.
[3] This is lousy English. “you will be charged immediately, as soon as payment is received” makes no sense. If your payment is received, there is no need to charge you.

Typical spam comment

“Simply want to say your article is as surprising. The clarity for your publish is just excellent and i could think you are knowledgeable on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grasp your RSS feed to stay updated with forthcoming post. Thanks one million and please continue the rewarding work.”

Lousy grammar, simpering flattery – standard hallmarks of a spam post. The user who made the comment? “how to make money online,hyip sites,search engine optimization,learn seo,download softwares and application for free,learn blogging tips and tricks“. But before I could even blow the comment out of the water, the web page at a spam link aggregator had already been deleted.

Oddly enough, this one made it past WordPress’ spam filter, but into the trash it goes anyway.

The Order of the Phoenix

If you’re ever wandering down Leinster Gardens in Bayswater Road in London, take a careful look at Numbers 23 and 24. These houses are in fact just façades, built to disguise an exposed part of the Metropolitan underground railway that runs behind them. In the 1930s, a man famously sold hundreds of guests tickets to a black tie charity ball there – only for them to turn up and discover the houses were fakes.

Edit: Since I wrote this little post, these building fronts have featured prominently in an episode of “Sherlock Holmes,” the wonderful new series staring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I was delighted to see them written in to the plot.

Picture: Murray Sanders / Daily Mail /Rex Features

Found at The Telegraph.

Obviously, the muggles would never notice…

The Old Wolf has… *obliviate!*

Clara Luper

Clara Luper, an Oklahoma history teacher, ordered thirteen Cokes at Katz Drugstore in Oklahoma City on August 19, 1958 for herself and twelve children, ages 6 to 17. Lunch counters in Oklahoma, like much of the South, were segregated. This wasn’t just a request for drinks, but a request for civil rights.

Waitresses ignored them. Other patrons did not: leaving the restaurant, pouring drinks on them, cursing at them.  The group left after a few hours without their drinks. They returned the next day and were served their Cokes, and burgers, too.

“Within that hamburger was the whole essence of democracy.” – Clara Luper

Note: This took place a year and a half before the much more famous sit-in at the Greensboro (NC) Woolworth’s on February 1, 1960. Luper would continue her fight to desegregate public spaces in Oklahoma City. She was arrested 26 times between 1958 and the passage of Oklahoma law to desegregate. (Passed two days after the Civil Rights Act.)


Found at Frog Blog

Thanksgiving Ragamuffins, New York – 1933

I previously posted about Denmark’s Fastelavn, but I had no idea that we had a similar tradition in the US prior to Hallowe’en.

Found at Retronaut via This Circular Parade

Before Halloween was the holiday known for dressing up in costume and begging for candy (this practice did not become common until the 1940s and 50s), children in NYC often participated in what was called Ragamuffin Day. On Ragamuffin Day – which was Thanksgiving Day – children would dress themselves in rags and oversized, overdone parodies of beggars (a la Charlie Chaplin’s character “The Tramp”). The ragamuffins would then ask neighbors and adults on the street, “Anything for Thanksgiving?” The usual response would be pennies, an apple, or a piece of candy.

In 1936, The New York Times’ only mention of the ragamuffins is to state:

Ragamuffins Frowned Upon: Despite the endeavors of social agencies to discourage begging by children, it is likely that the customary Thanksgiving ragamuffins, wearing discarded apparel of their elders, with masks and painted faces, will ask passers-by, ‘anything for Thanksgiving?’

In 1937, organizations such as the Madison Square Boys Club were reported as having Thanksgiving parades as an effort “to discourage the Thanksgiving ragamuffins.” By 1940, that parade had grown in size to over 400 children and sported the slogan “American boys do not beg.” Though the parading boys still dressed in costume as ragamuffins, many donned costumes of other things and people – such as alarm clocks and Michelangelo. – New York Public Library

According to one expert, “Ragamuffin parades, which harkened back to European traditions, were a chance for the poorer immigrants of New York to march through the streets in extravagant costumes, begging for change.” (From Bank St. Irregular)

I learn something new every day!

The Old Wolf has spoken.